The Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations is a Beirut, Lebanon-based organization engaged in “strategic and futuristic studies on the Arab and Muslim worlds, (emphasizing) the Palestinian issue.” In July 2010, it published the latest in its “Am I Not a Human?” series titled, “The Suffering of the Palestinian Child under the Israeli Occupation,” saying:
Palestinian children grow up “under the Israeli occupation, surrounded by cruelty, oppression, killing, starvation and destruction.” Yet, like all children, they dream of playing and living normally and safely. Instead, their father may be dead or in prison, their brother killed, their home destroyed, and their mother forced to give birth at an Israeli checkpoint, risking her and the newborn.
Palestinian children grow up differently from most others, their development “distorted by an occupation,” destroying their innocence, dreams and well-being. They live in constant fear, forced to grow up while still a child. “Actually (they are) grown up, for (they challenge) the toughest circumstances,” helping their families, replacing a parent when lost, and confronting Israeli incursions. “Amazingly… Palestinian child(ren set) the example to mature people,” even when very young.
They live when “we think that the world has become (more) civilized” without cruel colonizations, when global leaders defend human rights, dignity, democratic freedoms, and peace rhetorically, yet are indifferent to oppressed Palestinians, children always the most vulnerable, yet they persist and endure despite enormous hardships and obstacles, what Western children can’t imagine.
From September 2000 (the start of the second Intifada) through 2007 alone, 1,400 children were killed, 230 under age 12. What about others under occupation, with no father, injured or handicapped, hungry, impoverished or in prison? Still more who’ve lost friends and relatives, who live in fear and can’t sleep, who feel helpless when Israelis attack, and unprotected under a ruthless occupation, ongoing for over 43 years, affecting them physically, emotionally, and economically, making them feel isolated, helpless, and unaided, world leaders indifferent to their plight and their families.
Palestine is a young society, children comprising the majority. In its June 2007 annual report, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) said 2.1 million are under age 18, representing 52.2% of the West Bank and Gaza, distributed as follows:
- 17% below age five;
- 15.4% from five-nine;
- 13% from 10-14; and
- 6.8% from 15-17.
They’re Palestine’s future, their development and regeneration hope for liberation, pursued courageously until achieved, but at a huge price.
From September 29, 2000-December 31, 2008, children witnessed around 5,900 killings, over 35,000 injured, about 7,500 of their parents and relatives imprisoned, and the destruction of nearly 78,000 buildings through April 30, 2007.
A British study found that Palestinian children during the Intifada displayed higher political awareness levels. They know names of destroyed villages, especially where their parents were born, are knowledgeable about the conflict, and show commitment to resist it.
A separate report on Lebanese refugee children reveals extreme hardships under poor conditions in crowded homes without clean water, air, electricity, playgrounds, or job opportunities for their parents. In addition, children under age three experience a high rate of birth defects and respiratory diseases. In northern Lebanon, it’s 44.5%. Yet their Lebanese Baccalaureate passing rate is 73.9%, showing a commitment to achieve.
Palestinian Children: Their Rights and Violations
Israel repudiates children’s rights and welfare, treating them harshly like adults, in violation of the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child, its Principle 1 saying:
Every child, without exception whatsoever, shall be entitled to (fundamental human and civil) rights, without distinction or discrimination on account of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, whether of himself or of his family.
They’re entitled to special protections and opportunities to develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually, and socially in a healthy normal way under conditions of freedom and dignity — including their right to life, an adequate standard of living, health care, education, leisure, safety and peace, what Israel has denied them for over four decades.
Wounded and Killed Children
Aya Fayyad’s story reflects others, her death a tragedy other parents face, her mother Fatima saying her daughter’s loss on August 31, 2003, the eve of her school year, left her dazed and unable to imagine her nine-year old was dead.
She’d gone out to play, riding her bike when tank shells exploded. Other children escaped, but not Aya, struck by bomb shrapnel and killed.
On June 10, 2004, Iman al-Hams, a 13-year old girl, headed for school with two of her classmates. Nearing the Girit military post, they heard shooting. Iman ran to escape it and was shot dead by 20 “machine gun bullets that settled in her tiny body.” Not satisfied, three soldiers and their commander approached her, shot her multiples times to be sure, claiming her school bag contained explosives, later admitting there were only books.
Hundreds of similar incidents claimed other lives and thousands wounded or disabled. PCBS’ April 2008 annual report cited 959 deaths from September 29, 2000-February 2, 2008: 384 in the West Bank, another 573 in Gaza and two in Israel, the number injured (including many seriously) totaling 28,822, the total disabled about 2,660, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health (PMH).
PMH also reported that 31.4% of killed children were shot in the head, another 32.5% in the chest, showing intent to kill, soldiers often firing at close range and committing murder – part of their training and indoctrination from kindergarten to be warriors and Arab-haters, Amnesty International (AI) responding in a press release saying:
The majority of Palestinian children have been killed in the Occupied Territories when members of the IDF responded to demonstrations and stone throwing incidents with unlawful and excessive use of lethal force. Eighty Palestinian children were killed by the IDF in the first three months of the Intifada alone.
AI also mentioned Sami Fathi Abu Jazzar, shot in the head by Israeli soldiers on the eve of his 12th birthday in the aftermath of a stone-throwing demonstration, injuring six other children with live fire, AI representatives witnessed it firsthand, concluding soldiers’ lives weren’t endangered.
In 2001, AI reported that Palestinian children were killed by “random” IDF firing, shelling or bombarding residential neighborhoods “when there was no exchange of fire and in circumstances in which the lives” of soldiers weren’t at risk. “Others were killed by (targeted) assassinations when the IDF destroyed Palestinian houses without warning, and by flechette shells and booby traps used (in) densely populated areas.”
Other children were killed at checkpoints, by settlers, and by being prevented from reaching hospitals when their lives were in danger — cold-blooded murder by other means.
Children in Detention and Custody
In its April 2008 report, the Palestinian Ministry of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs said over 7,000 children had been arrested since the start of the second Intifada, 360 still in detention, some as young as 10, treated harshly like adults, in violation of international law requiring special treatment for children.
Of these, 145 have been sentenced, 200 still await trial, and 15 are administratively held without charge. The report also explained that about 500 other prisoners were arrested as youths, turning 18 in prison.
Other data confirmed around 75 children ill, not being treated, nearly all tortured by being beaten, hooded, painfully shackled and deprived of sleep for several days in the shabeh position — hands and legs bound to a small chair, at times from behind to a pipe affixed to the wall, painfully slanted forward, hooded with a filthy sack, and played loud music nonstop through loudspeakers.
Most children were arrested at home (77%), some at play, others at demonstrations. Most are students, some waiting over two years for a trial, becoming ill from poor food, hygiene, and lack of health care.
The Ministry’s 2007 report said about 220 were arrested, many still detained “under very bad conditions, receiving harsh treatment and prevented from pursuing their education or having any prospect of a prosperous future.”
One 16-year old youth was arrested heading to school for failing to have his ID card. Afterward, he was beaten, sent to Etzion detention camp, handcuffed, blindfolded, and beaten again brutally to get him to confess to stone-throwing and reveal names of other children with him at the time. During interrogation, his head was immersed in cold water, then hot, then the toilet. Later moved to Adorim camp, he was again beaten, tortured, held in solitary confinement for 34 days, then judicially-ordered held on “restrictive order” and transferred to Telmond Prison, in violation of Article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) stating:
No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment….
No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily…
Every child deprived of liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect… (and)
Every child deprived of his or her liberty shall have the right to prompt access to legal and other appropriate assistance…
CRC also mandates detention as a last resort for the shortest possible time. Israel does it preemptively, repressively, and irresponsibly to harass, abuse, inflict bodily and emotional harm, torture or kill – legalized by authorities decades ago, including harming children with:
• bad food and unsafe water;
• poor health care or lack of it;
• bad sanitation and hygiene;
• insect infested cells;
• cramped and crowded conditions;
• inadequate air and light;
• insufficient clothing, blankets and other protections;
• no play or recreation;
• isolation from the outside world;
• no family visits;
• the absence of counselors and specialists;
• detention with adults, some violent;
• solitary confinement;
• verbal, physical and sexual abuse; and
• no education.
Torture is official Israeli policy, explained in this writer’s August 2008 article:
Nothing is too brutal or extreme, including against women and children, one 15-year old saying he was stripped naked, forced into an extremely painful position, then burned by lit cigarettes to make him confess. Others are tortured to collaborate. A 10-year old said “They beat me on various parts of my body with plastic hoses. I had to have a surgical operation to have a platinum transplant in my arm. They kept me naked for a whole night, handcuffed and blindfolded; and I was not allowed to go to the toilet for two days!”
The Palestinian Prisoners Club reported that 95% of children are tortured, 85% to confess under duress and sign Hebrew documents they can’t read or understand.
Harsh occupation causes health problems, physical and psychological, from witnessing violence, mainly against loved ones and friends. “These conditions raise the death rate among children,” soldiers often obstructing ambulances and medical workers from reaching casualties and the sick, and they prevent deliveries of vital equipment and materials, especially to Gaza.
Even seriously ill adults and children can’t access proper medical care abroad or in East Jerusalem in hospitals equipped to help them. They’ve also been isolated and denied proper nutrition, 64% of children becoming anemic from lack of sufficient sustenance.
UNICEF reported that one baby in three risks death because of Gazan medical shortages, and the Separation Wall and checkpoints cause a 20% West Bank death rate — 61 births from 2000 — 2004 occurring at them because soldiers obstructed passage, 36 dying immediately.
Israel also prohibited the distribution of special nutritional meals to about 20,000 Gazan children under age five, most never having had them in their lives, and suffer anemia, stunted growth, and general body weakness from malnutrition and extreme poverty, compounded by the siege.
Mental health is also impacted, a 2004 PCBS survey showing 8.8% of children experience horrible accidents firsthand, most are intimidated by air raids, bombings, shellings, incursions, and the constant threat of more. UNICEF said about one-fifth of children are exposed to family violence from daily pressure, including poverty, unemployment, and lack of essential services and support networks.
A Gaza Community Mental Health Program study found 94.6% of children witnessed bombings and killings. Another Israeli Adler Research Center one showed 70% of West Bank children suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
As a result, the National Plan of Action for Palestinian Children said 93% of children are insecure, living in fear of being attacked, and 52% believe their parents can’t help. As a result, they experience an array of psychological symptoms, including:
• panic, fear and stress;
• anxiety, sadness and depression;
• forgetfulness and poor memory;
• hyperactivity and violence;
• digestive disorders and loss of appetite;
• involuntary urination and headaches;
• insomnia or excessive sleep;
• disturbed sleep or nightmares;
• feelings of helplessness with no safe haven, even at home; and
• hatred toward their occupier, instilling a spirit to resist.
The Socio-Economic Situation
Child rights agreements state that every child has a right to special care and assistance, and a right to a proper environment that fosters his growth, well-being, self-respect and dignity in a good family environment.
Palestinian children, however, are impeded under occupation, and an environment designed to be threatening and unsafe. This reality “denies them the joy of living an innocent childhood,” and for some, the inability to become adults.
Yet Fourth Geneva’s Article 27 states:
Protected persons are entitled, in all circumstances, to respect for their persons, their honour, their family rights, their religious convictions and practices, and their manners and customs. They shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against all acts of violence or threats thereof and against insults and public curiosity.
CRC’s Article 16 states:
No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation.
For decades, Israel has spurned international law and dozens of UN resolutions condemning or censuring its actions, deploring it for committing them, or demanding, calling on, or urging it, to end them. Israel never did and continues defying the rule of law, even its own, including High Court rulings authorities won’t accept, and actions like the following:
An Israeli military court ordered a seven-year old girl named Farah, whose father was assassinated five years earlier, to pay an 1,850 shekel fine in one month, without explanation, saying appropriate legal measures would be taken for refusing.
Another ruling prevented the parents of two-and-a-half year old Ahmad and nine-and-a-half year old Sawsan from accompanying their children through the Erez crossing for two urgently needed heart operations. They had to go alone on foot, Haaretz calling it “one of the most horrible and cruel scenes broadcast daily (and) a shameful stigma to Israel.”
Other socio-economic negatives include deteriorated home environments, lost homes, jobs, and mass impoverishment – 56.1% in the West Bank, 82% in Gaza, and 24% of children living in abject poverty, according to PCBS figures.
As a result, they have to leave school to help out, tilling fields, selling miscellaneous items on streets, anything for a few shekels, especially in fatherless households, a situation not conducive to proper development.
“Israel works on hindering the education of Palestinians.” Besides violating their basic right, it jeopardizes a new generation, UNRWA commissioner-general, Peter Hansen, saying:
“Imagine the political fallout if every schoolchild in London had missed a month’s schooling last year because teachers could not get to their classes,” or if children, heading to and from school, were endangered by tanks, checkpoints, and soldiers – a daily reality in Occupied Palestine, under the harshest conditions facing unimaginable obstacles and disadvantages, impacting education like everything else, affecting a proper environment for teaching and learning.
Yet Palestinians consider education vital to protect and sustain, the 2007-08 UN Development Program Report showing the Occupied Palestine Education Index at 0.891, the highest of all Arab states, followed by Libya at 0.875, Lebanon at 0.871 and Kuwait at 0.868 — the Index measuring the rate of children who attend school. The overall Arab average is 0.687.
For over six decades, over four under occupation, Israel has pursued a ruthless, violent, racist policy of slow-motion genocide against millions of Palestinians, especially children, to cripple new generations physically and emotionally, to crush their spirit to resist, to harden a ruthless colonial agenda in violation of fundamental international humanitarian law with respect to basic human freedoms, self-determination, and the right of people to live freely on their own land in peace.
The “parties involved in this cause, including the Palestinian Authority, the media, (global activists) and human rights organizations, (must) work hard to expose (Israel’s) brutality….in international forums, in particular the UN General Assembly, to condemn (its) occupation to the world community, to accuse and prosecute it in international judicial institutions for committing the most horrific and inhumane crimes,” especially against children, representing hope and regeneration.